The First Artist

Say the word Art and nearly everyone has an image in their mind of what that is. For some people it may only be what is recognized as fine art, and for others it may be anything that is pleasing, thought provoking, or easy to look at. What about that moment when we first entered school and were given our own box of wax crayons to draw on a large white sheet of paper? It was usually after lunch when we were too old for naps, and yet we needed a transitional moment, a quiet time to unwind.

Remember the joy of holding those fat waxy crayons in our clumsy little hands, knowing in our minds what we wanted to draw and we only needed to get our hands to fulfill that desire. Now imagine you are the first person in your community to look at a bare cave wall and think, I know I could do something here, something amazing.  For those first artists without stores to shop at or a circle of like-minded folks, they must have felt totally alone and yet they still tried to do the impossible.

Everything from the pigments to create an image, to the tools to move the pigment was un-invented, unknown.  An unadorned wall is a rarity in our modern world where advertisers and social movements want to see their message. Every time we bicycle or walk past a wall mural or vintage barn painted with advertisements, we should think of those brave individuals that stood up in front of their entire clan to leave a masterpiece that 40,000 years later people are still marveling at, still coming to see.

Pigment; whether you are considering watercolor, oils, or even fine art pencils it is the pigment that was harvested from raw materials like stones, and even animals, that allows the artist to go beyond the crushed berry juice we may have tried as children.

Being an artist is not a hat you can try on and take off when it seems too large or the wrong style; no, being an artist is something that is innate to our very being. We today that can Google a product review to consider whether to purchase, we can thank those very first artists that had the courage to do what had never been done.

My simple sketch with pastel pencils on brown construction paper was initially begun as something else entirely but when the leads for these older pencils kept snapping and cracking and I had little flakes of pigment to work with, I did not give up, I did not get mad and throw the lot away, I thought, I imagine the first artist to draw on a cave wall would be thrilled to have these nonfunctioning pencils, and paper wouldn’t be invented for thousands of years, so stop whining and get busy. And that attitude may the biggest difference between regular, normal people and those willing to get their hands dirty, paint under their fingernails, and paint on their clothing because we are part of the tribe of artists. We have been here a long time and we haven’t finished illuminating our world through the glamour of art.

Camera Obscura 8.22.21

Camera obscura from the Latin meaning ‘dark chamber’ is a device that has been around for centuries. Our local library is back in business and I had the chance to revisit the works of Edgar Degas via books. I have visited exhibitions of Edgar Degas’s work in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Baltimore, Maryland, New York City, New York, and Paris, France as well. While it is the scenes of the ballet Edgar Degas is most celebrated for, he produced hundreds of images of women bathing. All composed as if seen through a keyhole, Degas’s own words.

Edgar Degas’s images of the ballet stage and lights seem to glow as if lit from within and yet he withdrew from these distinguished works to focus on women in the bath. Most are modest enough not to shock and yet that is what he liked to do; to stimulate the viewer.

Contrary to other Impressionists that flocked to the outdoors to paint en plein air with open sky above them; Degas was a creature seeking the dark. Edgar Degas was like a living camera obscura; sitting in the dark waiting for the image to be transformed in his mind. His ability as a draftsman is renowned and yet the hundreds of his tracings, the tracing paper augmented and enlarged to fit his final vision seem to suggest that the physical world did not contain the image he unyieldingly sought.

While we wait for herd immunity so that we may once again enjoy the society of others, theatre productions, and crowded musical venues we may feel as if we’re still living in our bubbles, our solitary dark chamber. This additional wait can be irritatingly like the film Groundhog Day and yet as that film explores the cosmic change that took place in Bill Murray’s character, we too can make a change for the better.

My re-acquaintance with pastels, specifically oil pastels is engaging, and challenging, and in the end I am rewarded for stepping away from my watercolors I enjoy on sunny days. The dark is not all gloomy because that is what draws out the glow of lightning bugs, our faces lit by candlelight, and even the luminous glow of the full moon. Summer is fleeting quickly by and we would do well to remember to savor it before the long nights of winter close us off from our solar star.      

My nocturnal bathing beauty is drawn on Fabriano Tiziano Pastel and Charcoal Paper with Caran d’Ache Luminance Pencils and accented with Sennelier Oil Pastels.   

Life in the Tropics

We are approaching our two year anniversary on Sanibel Island and yes the time has flown by. While we miss our friends and family who live in the mid-Atlantic area of the United States, adjusting to island life is well, easy most of the time.

While we experience no hardship in wearing sandals and shorts as part of our daily attire, and prefer to bicycle for our quick errands, there are moments when we realize that a tropical life just isn’t for everyone. Living in a place such as Alaska would be a commitment of character as well as physical endurance, and we have tests here in our island community too. Hurricanes are the bane of most people’s decision to go island.

We had just such a wakeup call when Elsa began her sauntering dance through the Caribbean and up through the Gulf of Mexico. We could watch her destructive path easily from our television and the spaghetti models suggesting where she may continue her cha-cha closer by the day to our lovely island home.

Most people when they think of a home it is the physical place we actually live, but tropical life is so much more as in we are surrounded by abundant gorgeous flowers and lush foliage that was sure to be beaten and bruised by Elsa, only what about all the wildlife that call the greenery their home? The gopher tortoise and the little armadillos may have burrows but those would be submerged in the deluge of rains. The egrets, great and small, would be feeling the full brunt of the tropical storm, as well as many types of herons that call Sanibel home would also be in Elsa’s path.

Elsa came through with terrific winds, driving rains, and punctuated hour by hour with fierce and unrelenting lighting. Finally it seemed after a few power glitches we could see the light of day; so much water swirling through our car park that enticed an osprey to hunt for the small fish seen swimming around the tires of cars. Water lapped and poured through places that had been dry as a dessert for months, and with the rain came the fish flooding in to vacant ponds. Heron great, and small, shopped for their supper as people stood by and watched the dance of life Elsa had returned after the dry season.

Island life will continue and we are grateful our condo home received no damage. We will continue to watch for tortoise and turtles that cross our greenery on their way to nesting sites, the bobcat with her kittens, and even the iguanas that are seen on lawns and trees sunning. We will be enthusiastic about future armadillo sightings and our island life, thank goodness will continue on as it has for nearly two years.   

My watercolor, The Calm after the Storm was painted on Arches cotton paper with Sennelier and Winsor & Newton watercolors, Caran d’Ache Neocolor I wax-oil crayons used for a wax resistance technique.

Recycle, Repurpose, Reuse, 6.24.21

June seems like a fine time to have a sweep through my closet. I have opened my closet many times over the months of the pandemic if only to whisper wistfully to myself, I really miss wearing you at some place fun. We were not essential and so our top priority was well, staying healthy and not contributing to the strain healthcare workers were under. Staying in and only walking the beach or riding our bicycles; t-shirts and shorts were all we really needed, no dress code on a tropical island.

Incredibly talented musician friends of ours kept our spirits up by presenting a happy hour we could all groove to and see other friends joining in on a social media platform. We were all in our bubbles or what felt like bunkers only we were together in our aloneness. Robinson Crusoe was truly alone while we still had a community.

Community is what we all missed while we socially distanced, and self isolated, but now that we have a vaccine we can again join in and be social. When I cleared out and bagged all the clothes that I still loved but were three sizes too large I knew exactly where I would take them. Here on Sanibel Island we have a marvelous charity in Noah’s Ark.

Noah’s Ark is where everybody shops for the best deals and nearly everything has been previously owned, loved, and gently worn. Living on Sanibel of course I did not drive our car but rather bungee strapped my donation bag to my bicycle’s back fender. When I arrived at the parking lot there was already a line; spoiler alert: there’s always a line.  People will start forming a queue as early as 7:30 am just for a chance to shop here; the doors do not open till 9:30 am.

Sure I had my bag of donations ready to give, but I planned on shopping too. People come from near and far to find the treasures they know are here. I spent just $15.00 and came away with six new tops that not only will keep the sun off my shoulders, but off my arms as well. I could have ordered similar items online; however Noah’s Ark had a sale that day so instead of spending $30.00 to $60.00 each my bicycle basket was filled for just $15.00.  All the pleasure of a morning ride on my classic Schwinn bicycle for a treasure trove of cotton and linen tops, that will shield my skin from the sun and none of the gooiness of sunscreen.

Knowing the morning transaction was accomplished on a bicycle while shade kept the palms and giant ferns moist and me cool was fabulous.  Better still was the knowledge that purchasing from a local charity continues to contribute to our local community is a marvelous feeling. Recycle, repurpose, reuse is easy and the chance to meet and chat with new faces while I waited in line was fun as well, and isn’t that what community is all about? 

My little watercolor A Community of Fishes is accented with India ink.

Words and Pictures

While I enjoy writing very much, it is the opportunity to sketch my characters in a poem or a story that truly helps them to evolve in my mind. Evolution is the improvement in form that helped birds and bats to fly, for fish to come up on land, and for some creatures to return to the sea that spawned them. We all want to evolve to be more than we were before.

It is still painful for me to recall the automobile accident that curtailed my potential artistic career. I thought I had truly said farewell to painting and sketching as a tremor kept my hand from the steadiness I had enjoyed in the past. Years went by; many years went by before I returned to sketching and eventually painting. While I can look back over the years of progress, I have made there is disappointment that I had so many years of not sketching, not painting. The pandemic that curtailed our lives in so many ways as forced me to exercise my hand to paint and sketch every single day for a whole year.

Time is precious and it did not take the loss of better than a half a million lives to make me realize that we should all seize the moment to do that thing we had dreamed of doing and talking ourselves out of it because it was frivolous or unessential. Now there is a word we have heard daily in life or death consequences’ essential. Being able to see ourselves achieving something in real life we had only allowed ourselves to dream of is affirming to our spirit. At least that is how I feel when a sketch or a paining becomes exactly what I wanted.

For me painting is the frosting on the cake as far as art is considered, unless it is iridescent pastels added to a watercolor pastel painting, then it is lustrous magic I have been pining for. Art museums are off the agenda at least until we can safely consider air travel. My collection of books on artists is how I satisfy that hunger, and Marc Chagall has been my coffee date for many days. Marc Chagall survived religious persecution, the Spanish flu, two World Wars, and gave us art to believe that dreams really can come true. 

My watercolor/pastel The Dream is on Arches cold press paper, drawn with Caran d’Ache Neocolor II Aquarelle pastels and accented with Sennelier soft iridescent pastels.   

The Consequence of Riches

When I was a child my maternal grandfather would tell us Aesop’s Fable stories before bed. He would tell them not in the once upon a time but rather more as if the events were something he personally experienced or the characters were individuals he knew. That it is important to remember history or be doomed to repeat it has been said in nearly every generation. Recently on a few consecutive cloudy afternoons, a rarity in paradise I might add, I had the chance to reread H.P. Lovecraft’s version of the big frog in a small pond adaptation in his The Shadow over Innsmouth. Here on Sanibel we are approaching the beginning of rainy season when the chirping of amorous frogs is prolific in the twilight hours and so I have spun my own adaptation of the big frog in a small pond, this time the central character is female.

 Once upon a time there was a little girl born to parents who already had two sons and had named them after the father and grandfather. The parents Mr. & Mrs. Smyth-Simpson had wanted a little girl very much, not so much because that a daughter would fulfill their family, but rather a female was needed to bestow one of their children with the name of a great and aged aunt that owned several amazing pieces of antique jewelry and the ancestral estate. This great lady was Bertilda Octavia Oglethorpe. When Mr. and Mrs. Smyth-Simpson realized they finally achieved a daughter they named her after the aunt. The infant Bertilda Octavia had such a long name that the two brothers shortened it to Bessie.

The family went along happily without incident only they might have been a bit overindulgent with little Bessie. Harmony was the standard until the clash that occurred when little Bessie learned her initials spelled B.O.S.S. At the ripe old age of 3.5 years old she truly believed she was the boss of anything and everything. She demanded to wear the tiara that was in the family safe and to wear it everywhere to do just about everything. Her mother and father coaxed her down to only wear it on Saturday evening and only for dinner with the stipulation that they would buy her a wardrobe of plastic tiaras, which of course they did.

When Bessie entered kindergarten she did so with her most precious plastic tiara so that the ordinary children would realize her ancestors were in fact very important people. Bessie believed with all her heart her family were the kind of people who governed and ruled over all the little people who did little jobs waiting for the really important people to tell them what to do. Bessie was so important she continued to tell her teachers how to instruct, what the roles of the other children were in relation to her. In many ways Bessie had decided while wearing the real tiara one Saturday evening that she was in reality a displaced queen.

Queens don’t merely boss, they rule their subjects like objects on a chessboard. Bessie would at the beginning of each term decide what each of her classmate’s position was in relation to her and disobedience was not tolerated. She was Bertilda Octavia Smyth-Simpson her people were important and so her words were equally important, she was in charge she thought of literally everything. She told her brothers who they may date and even who they might marry, because she wasn’t having just any female  be a member of her family, what if they were even bossier than her?

Bessie needed to maintain her dominance of everyone all the time; she talked louder than anyone that might topple her rule, she belittled and bullied anyone that might think they were dare I mention it equal to her. For Bessie saw no person equal to her because she saw herself on an imaginary dais above others, always.  

Her brother Reginald went away to university out of state with fewer and fewer home visits. Her mother was concerned and they all got on an airplane to visit Reginald. Well, when they visited it soon became clear why Reginald had stayed away from home. He was in love with a girl and he dreaded having her meet his family. Lucinda was nothing to hide, she was an artist model, brilliant academic, and both her parents were esteemed professors at the university, so why had Reginald not brought her home to meet his family during the Christmas break?

Well Bessie took one look at this statuesque female that had a radiant complexion and lustrous thick dark hair and she marched over with her best imaginary tiara on her sparse dishwater blonde head to tell Lucinda she needed permission to associate with her brother.

Lucinda had evidently been schooled to expect this type of reception and bent graciously down to shake hands with Bessie and she said, “Pity you aren’t taller, you’ll be swimming in the bridesmaid’s gown. But perhaps the family tiara will make you feel taller.”

Bertilda Octavia Smyth-Simpson had the clarity and judgment to realize she had by traveling away from her hometown got out of her depth for the people in this community were completely unaware of her family’s significance, they thought her an average person of no importance.  Bessie could not associate with people that thought her average, or equal to them, she was heir to the Oglethorpe estate. Bertilda quickly returned to her home and lived to an aged state in a great house filled with cats that she cared for wearing the real tiara. Her brother Reginald and Lucinda married and Reginald took Lucinda’s surname of Baxter. They produced two children: Joseph Oscar and Julie Olivia Baxter and donated the family jewelry to a museum, where it continued to collect dust.  

The Ice Siren 3.28.2021

Beginning a new art notebook is much like those new school composition notebooks we bought at the beginning of a new semester. They were our passport to a new class, a new way of seeing our world from a different vantage point. Sometimes we may have drawn small sketches in the corners, I know I did. When the semester wound up it was those little sketches that reminded me of the people I sat next to in a class or the teacher that taught it.

Finishing an art notebook is much like reading a novel; the people we were when we began are not necessarily the people we are at the last page. The last page of some novels is the ‘and they lived happily ever after’ moment, in others like The Hobbit, it is the bridge for an even bigger adventure story. The Ice Siren is a watercolor in the next to the last page of a small notebook I have taken with me to Las Vegas, Nevada, San Francisco, California, and London, England.

As the pandemic stretched longer and further all of my supplies were held as vital resources. A few years ago I would have flipped through it and smiled at some of the sketches but now with everything having to be ordered, I count every single page. One day we may look back on this time and feel relieved that we are living a normal life, finally but I know I will look at my art notebooks as a treasure trove of ideas and images that I was afforded the luxury of time to work and rework ideas and images.

While social distancing and confinement has limited me to my own supplies, my own library of art books, it has also given me space and time to think about the paintings I want to paint in acrylic and the true commitment of time; oil. I have had days and days to explore soft pastels, oil pastels as well, and yet it is watercolors I use to explore a concept first. The other mediums provide their own light in the color white, while watercolors achieve their luminance by the sheen of white paper that lies like a ghost underneath the translucent color.

I still feel when I began to sketch an image to paint, like a child learning cursive in Mrs. Jackson’s second grade class, in that every nuance of a shape is as important to telling this visual story as the way we cross our T’s or how wide we swing our capitol G’s. I still believe every chance to learn is an opportunity to improve and that attitude has sustained my creativity for this unusual time of imposed isolation.

I look forward to receiving the vaccine that will enable me to visit art museums, art supply stores, art galleries and the community of people we have been missing because a global pandemic shut us away from society. I look forward to dining out and to listening to live music. I look forward to seeing friends and family we haven’t seen for more than a year. I look forward because when you close one chapter of life, much like a notebook, it’s time to begin a new one. 

How wild are you?

Once while walking, I peeked into the greenwood;

I fear I saw what is greatly misunderstood.

For there were things both wild and free,

And these creatures had no thought of me.

They each pursued life with unharnessed vitality,

Each beast imbued with its own specialty.

I questioned my presence in this world so wild,

What is progress but turning the fine into the defiled.

We humans each have a choice in how we choose our lives,

The wilds have but one choice; it is us they must survive.

 I fear it has troubled me

Ever since.

In years passed we have had many chances to take a behind the scenes tour of the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife animal rescue facility on Sanibel Island, Florida. It is a rewarding occasion to see how dedicated professionals and volunteers care for injured wild animals with the goal of releasing them back into their native habitat.

2020 has been a very busy year for C.R.O.W. as more than 5,600 animals were in need of care for injuries sustained many times due to human carelessness. I look forward to having the vaccine that will help our lives to resume and because when we planned to live on Sanibel Island contributing and volunteering at our favorite animal rescue was a priority.

We can all help in little ways from avoiding collisions with wildlife while driving instead of looking at our cellular phones, to aiding a box turtle to cross a road to reach its nesting grounds when spring does return to the north.

A healthy wildlife population is a barometer to the compassion of humans and the environment. While red tide (Karenia brevis) has been around for centuries, habitat loss has increased the urgency for some species of animals to find places to feed. Karenia brevis can affect the central nervous system and in humans it may cause dizziness, muscular aches; in animals it can be far more disastrous resulting in seizures and tremors which is why wild life rescue is all the more imperative. 

Covid-19 has stretched our global economy to the very limit threatening crucial charity work that is essential to survival whether a food pantry for humans or a wildlife hospital.  We may easily contribute to help others and a donation to a favorite charity is always the right color and generous is always the right size. I love my birthday cards when I open them and I read: A donation has been made in your honor to Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife on SanibelIsland, Florida. I know that is a gift really worthy of giving.

Sanibel is renowned for its protected lands and the wildlife preserves. Wild happens every day here and even from our lanai while reading a book I can watch turtles, tortoise, bobcats, osprey, hummingbirds, and listen to the young coyotes while they yodel for their dinner. Paradise for us isn’t about a grand house or a motorboat, no paradise is a place where technology takes a backseat.

Lives in Waiting…1.28.2021

Eleven full moons since we all heard the dire need to self-isolate, lockdown society in hopes that separating from each other will slow the spread of Covid-19. We have not heeded the scientists and pleas of healthcare workers to the devastating losses of more than 4000 deaths a day in the United States. I think back to the terrible day of September 11, 2001 and how people wanted to show their patriotism by helping with contributions and attaching an American flag to their motor vehicles.

Financial contributions are nearly always beneficial; I do not really see how waving a flag helps. Anybody can wave a flag, anybody. It takes sterner stuff to quote William Shakespeare to go Once more into the breach, day after day, week after week, month after month. Healthcare workers are fighting the pandemic every single day and risking their lives to keep others on the way to recovery. If we haven’t woken to the fact that we’re fighting a war against a virus then fiddling away our lives tracking down conspiracy theories will not save Americans, but wearing a mask will.

I am of a certain generation that had vaccinations for polio, small pox, mumps, and measles and with that went a sense of patriotism that we were putting an end to the spread of diseases. I cannot fathom someone not having a tetanus shot to potentially save their life from lockjaw for fear of a chip being administered to monitor behavior.  Americans already have a handy tracking device to monitor their actions and whereabouts it’s called a cellular phone.

I am, like about seven billion other people waiting for some type of normalcy to resume. If tetanus or rabies could be spread as easily as Covid-19 I cannot imagine a resistance to immunization. People, I would like to believe see the sense of closing off new infections. Participation in the betterment of society and the human experience are why people collect for the needy and send food and clothing to areas devastated by natural disasters. Waving a flag seems silly in front of people who have had to make the final arrangements in the wake of a loved one’s death.

I just want to clarify patriotism in my family stretches all the way back to the beginning of America; and they didn’t wave flag, they put on a uniform. Healthcare workers are donning their armor a.k.a. uniforms of their profession far and beyond what they envisioned when they went to medical school. That kind of valor and bravery is far more patriotic than waving a flag, I mean don’t cheerleaders wave flags at sporting events or at parades and auto shows?

If we choose to call ourselves patriots then we should also remember that the Pledge of Allegiance begins with, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands one nation…” We as Americans can’t pick and choose our principles like apples on a tree; we have to accept the entirety like all the thousands of healthcare workers caring for people who refused to wear a mask. The doctors, nurses, emergency technicians are all waiting for us to remember we’re Americans and to be united against the pandemic, not each other.       

The Full Moon, the Boy and the Harp 12.29.2020

What a tumultuous year 2020 has been and as we prepare to close with the last full moon I thought something different would be beneficial. Here is a little story that has absolutely nothing of what this year has come to mean for millions of people around the world. I like to think of it as a delicate slice of pound cake with a dash of whipped cream after the disgrace of a contentious and riotous meal. We all could do with a bit of an emotional dessert after this rollercoaster of a year.

The Full Moon, the Boy and the Harp 12.29.2020

Once upon a time there was on the far western seas there was a boy who lived by his wits with his winning comrades of the sea. Life was simpler as the wheel,bane of the wilds and essential for war and domination, had yet to be conceived.

The wheel lay like a spinning orb in the nocturnal dreams of wild creatures that knew when it rolled the land it would indeed rule the land. The forest and the sea would be at the disposal of those two-legged creatures that until this moment had only achieved fire and sharp sticks to wound and maim.

The boy swam in the seas with seals and avoided the great white sharks that would hunt him the way a fox would stalk a rabbit. The great white shark had an enormous advantage that is until one of those pointy sticks that the humans made fell into the sea and then the boy had power, he had a weapon. He no longer swam in fear but grew bold with the pointy stick daring the shark to come for him and then he would rule the lagoon.

The shark was much older than the boy and he knew this sea-pup was feeling audacious but as the shark also knew that the seals enjoyed swimming with the boy so he would hunt further away, where the seal pups were learning to swim. Much time went by before the boy had cause to use the pointy stick.

The full moon was approaching and the boy swam out to where the sea was brightened by bioluminescence and it was magical. The full moon reflected off the brilliant luminous sea and the stick in the boy’s hand was lost. Down the boy swam to the coral reef where dazzling anemone spawned and an octopus waited for a crab to stroll by.

The boy searched in vain for his pointy stick, but the only thing he found was an odd piece of wood. It was heavy and he tugged and tugged to free it from the octopus’s grasp. The boy found a crab for the octopus and when the octopus captured the crab it released the wooden sphere. The boy seized his prize and swam with it to his lagoon.

The object was laden with water and was heavy to bring up to the beach, but it shone so in the light of the moon the boy worked harder to see what this contrivance was. Strands of metal as thin as a hair were laced from one side to the other, was this a net to catch fish? The boy held it up in the moon light and brushed his fingertips over the metal cords like strings which hummed drops of water that flew away and landed like sparkling gems.

The boy smiled and grew adventurous to see what sounds he could make with this mysterious device. As he strummed his fingernails over the metal cording a song came to his ears over the surface of the water, he sang along and continued to play. He sang with the Sirens all night until the moon set. As the sun’s first rays came like fingers reaching over the horizon they lit on the harp and it became soft in his hands and slipped through his grasp into the sand. Only the drops of water that were diamonds lay on the sand twinkling in the new dawn.

The boy gathered them up and put them in a cockleshell. He would wait and see what these gems would become when the moon was once more full and bioluminescence made the sea radiant with life.

The Full Moon, the Boy and the Harp is an original watercolor painted on Fabriano watercolor paper with Sennelier watercolors. Golden accents achieved with van Gogh metallic watercolors.

All the very, very best for a wonderful New Year!